2003 05 27
More on Africa
Don’t miss an excellent piece in the NYTimes today by N. Kristoff. After months, years, of almost total silence, there may be a faint stirring of interest in one of the most miserable places on the planet: Central Africa.
Alone the same lines, Lewis MacKenzie in the National Post blasts the failure of the UN to deal at all with the carnage in Central Africa:
Like it or not, the UN is no longer capable of finding adequate resources, read countries, willing to sacrifice their sons and daughters in uniform for someone else’s human rights, unless the conflict threatens world peace and security or is in America’s self-interest to get involved.
Apply that criteria to the situation in the Congo and you get little interest and no action writ large. Africa, in general, and the complicated situation in the Congo don’t register on the “must-do” list of the Security Council. Observers wax eloquent on how the Security Council would have acted to stop the potential genocide in Rwanda in 1993 if only they had known of Canadian General RomÃ©o Dallaire’s forecast of genocide and his plea for additional soldiers to try and thwart it. Balls! The Permanent Five veto-holding members of the Security Council knew a hell of a lot more about what was going on in Rwanda and what was being planned by the Hutus than General Dallaire, who had virtually zero intelligence-gathering capability in his tiny command. They chose to do nothing because they had no national self-interests in Rwanda.
MacKenzie’s conclusion is on less firm ground, I think. MacKenzie argues that peacekeeping is obsolete because the Security Council is dependent on credible armies and significant international consensus:
The Congo is a perfect example of a crisis the UN should be able to resolve without the leadership of the United States — by deploying the force necessary to sort out the thugs and goons who currently control the streets and jungles. The fact that the UN is not capable of doing so should be the final piece of evidence to convince even the most optimistic among us that it is incapable of carrying out the role assigned it in 1945 as the primary instrument responsible for international peace and security.
Those numerous Canadian commentators who call for our immediate participation in the Congo as “peacekeepers” display a disturbing ignorance of the profound change that has taken place regarding conflict since the end of the Cold War. Peacekeeping was a key component of our foreign policy for almost 50 years. It was a good run, but the concept is pretty well dead and buried and it’s time for its inventor — us — to admit it. Mercifully, countries rarely go to war these days, but factions within countries are fighting in more than 50 conflicts as you read this. If the UN is to take on stopping the slaughter it needs the participation of professional militaries trained for combat in sufficient numbers to defeat — euphemism for kill in most cases — the perpetrators of these war crimes. The concept of a neutral and impartial role for the UN in such conflicts is dangerous wishful thinking, and wrong. Like it or not, this fact, based on compelling evidence accumulated over the past decade, should be serious food for thought as the federal government undertakes the long-overdue foreign and defence policy review as promised by prime ministerial contenders Paul Martin and John Manley.
It’s not clear to me what MacKenzie is proposing as an alternative to the UN here. Unilateral actions or actions undertaken without international backing? Won’t all the same problems of cycnicism and inaction attach to these actions, compounded by fresh problems that arise from a lack of international consensus? MacKenzie is obviously right that the current international system is a failure. But what does he propose in its place? Or is nothing supposed to take its place?
I’m often reminded of the crack that “never again” means “never again will the world stand by and let Germans persecute Jews in the 1940s”. We have to do something. Don’t we?